While Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are hogging the spotlight, data brokers that collect your information from hundreds of sources and sell it wholesale are laughing all the way to the bank. But they’re not laughing in Vermont, where a first-of-its-kind law hems in these dangerous data mongers and gives the state’s citizens much-needed protections.
Data brokers in Vermont will now have to register as such with the state; they must take standard security measures and notify authorities of security breaches (no, they weren’t before); and using their data for criminal purposes like fraud is now its own actionable offense.
If you’re not familiar with data brokers, well, that’s the idea. These companies don’t really have a consumer-facing side, instead opting to collect information on people from as many sources as possible, buying and selling it amongst themselves like the commodity it has become.
This data exists in a regulatory near-vacuum. As long as they step carefully, data brokers can maintain what amounts to a shadow profile on consumers. I talked with director of the World Privacy Forum, Pam Dixon, about this practice.
“If you use an actual credit score, it’s regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” she told me. “But if you take a thousand points like shopping habits, zip code, housing status, you can create a new credit score; you can use that and it’s not discrimination.”
And while medical data like blood tests are protected from snooping, it’s not against the law for a company to make an educated guess your condition from the medicine you pay for at the local pharmacy. Now you’re on a secret list of “inferred” diabetics, and that data gets sold to, for example, Facebook, which combines it with its own metrics and allows advertisers to target it.
(click here to continue reading Vermont passes first law to crack down on data brokers | TechCrunch.)
Exactly why I wish the US would implement its own version of the GDPR that we’ve discussed. Corporations that mine our digital data, and sell it, and resell it, without oversight, or without giving “a taste” to the consumer are corporations that need to be regulated and watched by a consumer protection agency of some kind. Not every consumer is savvy enough to obfuscate their tracks, and honestly, even somewhat savvy consumers are no doubt caught up in these nameless corporations’ databases. Corporations like Equifax, Quotient and Catalina Marketing and a few thousand others don’t really need to use browser cookies anymore, they also use the unique ID of your devices, they track your IP numbers down to your block group, and can track you at home, at office, via phone, via credit card, via geolocation and via other means. I find it Orwellian and creepy.
My sincere wish is that Vermont continues on this path of regulation of the wild, wild web of data brokers, and that other states and the entire country follows suit.